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Becoming Better Messengers

Effective messaging of public health challenges and interventions is essential to public health practice and especially to implementing public health laws and policies in a polarized political environment. It is easy for public health leaders to become consumed with the ongoing political and resource shifts taking place in public health and health care. However, it is also clear that those in public health, at all levels, want to engage more deeply and meaningfully with communities of all backgrounds who are burdened by poor health.

View the BBM overview and the COVID-19 messaging guidance:

What It Means to be a Better Messenger for Health



Baker EL. Crafting Richer Messages and Being More Credible Messengers. Management Moments with Public Health Leaders.

Burris S, Matthews G, Gunderson G, Baker EL. Becoming Better Messengers: The Public Health Advantage. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. 25(4); 402-303, 2019.

Healy Boufides C, Corcoran E, Matthews GW, Herrick J, Baker EL. Millennials as New Messengers for Public Health. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. 25(2); 197-200, 2019.

Matthew G, Burris S, Ledford SL, Gunderson G, Baker EL. Crafting Richer Public Health Messages for a Turbulent Political Environment. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. 23(4): 420-423, 2017.

Matthew G, Burris S, Ledford SL, Baker EL. Advocacy for Leaders: Crafting Richer Stories for Public Health. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. 22(3): 311-315, 2016.

Burris S, Ashe M, Blanke D, Ibrahim J, Levin DE, Matthews G, Penn M, Katz M. Better Health Faster: The 5 Essential Public Health Law Services. Public Health Reports. 13(6): 747-753, 2016.


Introducing Management Moments with Public Heath Leaders: An Interview with Gene Matthews, JD, hosted by Edward Baker, MSc, MD, MPH on JPHMP Direct. Aired October 24, 2018.

New voices: Millennials and the future of public health: An Interview with Lizzie Corcoran and Brian Castrucci, hosted by Mark Miller. Public Health News Wire, October 9, 2018.


APHA 2018 Advocacy for Leaders – Becoming Better Messengers: The Public Health Advantage

For the fourth year in a row, our team was invited by APHA Government Relations staff to conduct a workshop and discussion as part of the pre-meeting Advocacy for Leaders workshop. Presenters engaged the audience with self-reflection questions before sharing an overview of Moral Foundations Theory and discussing strategies for improving messages and becoming more trusted messengers. New this year, we explained the Public Health Advantage and its implications for public health communication, and we spoke directly to millennials and their managers about millennials’ unique challenges and opportunities as messengers. Learn more.

Crafting Richer Messengers: The Public Health Advantage

Hosted by leaders at the North Carolina Institute for Public Health (NCIPH) at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health in April 2018, this workshop sought to transform this challenge into an opportunity to improve community health and explore deeper methods for communicating our public health messages. The workshop intentionally brought together an audience that was diverse politically, geographically, generationally and racially. Also included were public health and organizational leaders at the local, state and national levels, leadership development experts from the private sector and elected officials. Learn more.


Crafting Richer Public Health Messages—Gaining Broad Policy Support in Politically Polarized Times

Designed for public health practitioners, lawyers, researchers and scientists, government and healthcare officials, and business and community leaders, this three-part Network webinar series explores the interdisciplinary messaging teamwork necessary to fashion legal and policy interventions in these politically polarized times. Using concepts and frameworks adapted from both Moral Foundations Theory and the Five Essential Public Health Law Services, the presenters describe fresh approaches and practical examples for convincing lawmakers and the public to adopt new policies during these challenging times. 

Messaging Sexual Violence Prevention

The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) webinar, “Messaging Sexual Violence Prevention,” discusses framing and messaging techniques to educate policy makers on sexual violence prevention. The Network of Public Health Law and colleagues discussed the framework of Moral Foundations Theory, messaging lessons learned from millennials about social media usage (including the #MeToo movement), and communicating with policy-makers to advance sexual violence prevention efforts.

Public Health Messaging in a Politicized Pandemic

Communicating about COVID-19 Response Measures in a Volatile Environment
Effective messaging is essential in order to make the legal, policy, or fiscal changes demanded by this pandemic. COVID-19 is top of mind for citizens, public health, health care and local policy makers alike, but people with different political perspectives view COVID differently. In this challenging time, it’s crucial that public health professionals be able to speak productively and meaningfully with people who hold different political perspectives and view complex health issues differently. This session will present research that shows the relationship between our political views and the foundational moral values with which we resonate. Though all of us confront numerous divides ranging from generational to political, the public health workforce can bridge these differences to become trusted messengers and further the health of their communities during this pandemic. This session is designed to benefit both frontline public health workers and organizational managers engaging in law, policy and/or fiscal change.

Rooted in Faith & Community: Messaging for Leaders to Advance Health Equity

COVID-19 continues to impact our communities. Public health, community, and faith leaders need to effectively communicate with each other, elected officials and the public, from both sides of the political divide, to advance a unified response. As the nation waits the arrival and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, we need to leverage this special moment in time to lead work upstream and address inequities and use our voices to promote vaccine uptake and access in our communities. This training will examine the relationship between our political views and the foundational moral values with which we resonate. We can become better advocates by understanding which foundational moral values resonate with us and why it is important to recognize, appreciate, and learn to speak to other people’s values.


New Voices in the Public Health Workforce: A Dialogue with Millennials

This session at the 2018 APHA Annual Meeting is inspired by conversations about Millennials that don’t always include Millennials in the context of public health workforce and the future of public health. There is currently a growing gap in the public health workforce, as previous generations workers leave and retire, while disproportionately fewer new workers and graduates enter the public health workforce. The gap in the workforce comes at a time with concurrent trends in public health education, public health discourse, a national workforce training needs agenda, and public health challenges such as chronic disease, violence, and opioids. We need a nuanced and refreshed perspective on the younger generations to fully engage them in the workforce and successfully pass on generational knowledge and experience. Ultimately, we will hear directly from Millennials in public health on strategies to effectively engage and capitalize on the contributions of Millennials, closing the workforce gap and advancing the field of public health.

The Public Health Advantage: Crafting Richer Messages & Becoming Better Messengers

The well-established model of the Five Essential Public Health Law Services cannot function without the use of effective messaging to support modifying existing laws, regulations, policies or appropriations. Building upon the framework of Moral Foundations Theory, this session from the 2018 Public Health Law Conference explores how everyone in public health can craft better messages and come better messengers. Attendees learn about ways in which liberals and conservatives resonate differently to fundamental intuitive moral values, and how public health actually has an advantage in their turbulent political environment. In particular, how can we engage and learn from Millennials now entering out public health workforce about messaging in the age of social media.

Network Blog Posts

Crafting Richer Messages: Moral Foundations Theory and Communication Strategies for Public Health

Effective messaging of public health issues and solutions is essential to public health practice and especially to developing public health laws and policies in a polarized political environment. A number of strategies presented in the workshop were grounded in Moral Foundations Theory, which offers insights into moral psychology and decision-making that are helpful for understanding how value judgments are made.

Additional Resources

Baker EL. JPHMP Direct: Leadership Library. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice.

Woodruff AE. Are Public Health Schools Politically Diverse? Public Health Post. January 24, 2019.

Amin AB et al. Association of moral values with vaccine hesitancy. Nature of Human Behaviour. 1: 873-880, 2017.

Niemi L, Young L. When and Why We See Victims as Responsible: The Impact of Ideology on Attitudes Toward Victims. Personality and Social Psychology Bulleting. 42(9): 1227-1242, 2016.

Wolsko C, Arceaga H, Seiden J. Red, white, and blue enough to be green: Effects of moral framing on climate change attitudes and conservation behaviors. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 65(1): 7-19, 2016. Collaboration. Moral Foundations Theory. January 30, 2016.

Haidt J. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2012.